A balaclava is an incredibly useful piece of gear to bring hiking or camping. It can be worn during the day in cool weather as a hat, face mask, or neck gaiter or at night as head covering to keep you extra warm in your sleeping bag.
Balaclavas come in many different styles and materials. My personal favorite is an Outdoors Research Wind Pro Balaclava which is wind proof and has a big hole for my face. This model is very flexible because I can adjust it in all kinds of different configurations depending on my warmth level and how much I’m sweating. I also own the OR Sonic Balaclava which provides even more coverage over my nose and mouth, with mesh breathing ports for extremely cold and windy conditions.
If you don’t like wearing a balaclava, it’s possible to obtain a comparable level of insulation or facial protection by wearing a neck gaiter or a combination neck gaiter/face mask with a hat. I also do this, especially when I’m having issues with my glasses fogging up, because it gives me a little bit more control over thermal venting. When I wear a face mask, my preference is the Serius Neofleece Combo Scarf which contains neoprene, and like a wet suit, retains your body heat when it gets wet from your exhalations.
During the other three seasons of the year, I usually wear a Buff Bandana as a hat at night for extra warmth. During black-fly season, I’ll wear it during the day like a balaclava because wearing a bug net makes me dizzy. I used to spray my Buffs with permethrin, a contact insecticide, but Buff has recently started manufacturing Buffs with Insect Shield (permethrin is the active ingredient). The factory dipped Buffs remain effective through 70 washings vs. a half dozen if you spray on the permethrin yourself: definitely worth another $15.
Disclosure: The author owns all of the products reviewed here and purchased them using his own funds.
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